In the heart of Rohini, cars line up outside a ‘pandal’ where over the PA system a godman speaks about faith and the path one can take to better their lives. A short distance away, one man oblivious to the brouhaha is more worried about the rain clouds gathering overhead.
‘Aaj lag nahirahahaiki practice ho payega.’ Today I do not think we will be able to have practice. This is ChinmoyMahato, a man who since the year 2011 has opened up paths for young children lost in dark alleys and shorn of opportunities. In this time he has used football to send his message and it’s loud and clear: play and make something out of your lives. Mahato is himself a victim of opportunities gone a begging as a debilitating injury made sure he couldn’t continue to play professionally.
Almost a decade ago, Mahato – a West Bengal native –was a promising player plying his trade in the lower leagues for Bokaro SAIL team but a serious ankle injury made sure his professional career was cut short. But instead of giving up on the game altogether, Mahatostarted afresh and completed a course in the National Institute of Sport in Patiala while also adding sports related courses from Delhi University. Once he was done, the 32-year-old decided that the dreams that were so rudely interrupted in his case would be realized by the children he would train to become footballers.
This zeal to do something led him to start Manthan.
Manthan is an organization that Mahato started in 2011 and till date he runs it independently. The idea is to take children from the slums and give them a chance to experience the joys of playing the beautiful game. The training, held 6 days a week and free of cost, is not restricted to any age barriers as kids of any age can join. Mahato takes particular pride in the 45 girls training under him and goes on to add that ‘their attitude to the game is superb despite the social constraints’.
‘We have to do more for children especially since they are the future. If they do not get the right push at this age, how do we expect them make an impression on our society.’ He goes on to add, ‘Their childhood is when they have maximum potential to learn and yet I see so many children sitting at home and not doing anything. Even the ones who go to school take no interest in it because it’s not engaging.’
The trainees, ranging from the age of 8 to 17, are allocated according to their age groups which help him to set the intensity of the training. Despite having 145 kids training every week, Mahato is still a one-man team and he admits that training so many children is very difficult. This is where some of his senior trainees have stepped in and filled the void very admirably. While Mahato trains the U-17 kids, his trainees help train the Under-8, Under-10 and Under-14 teams.
Every Sunday, the coach reaches out to the nearby slums in Rohini and conducts workshops where talent is scouted and parents are made to understand that a career in football is a sustainable one. Mahato says that a common statement peddled in the slums is that ‘football khelkekyahoga?’, what good will come from playing football? The parents have seen ‘rags to riches’ stories in cricket but football? Here, Mahato wants to step-in and help change the mindset and show them that instead of skepticism these kids need support.
He asks, ‘If your child is playing football – or any sport – and playing it well, who will not be filled with pride?’
Picking up children isn’t a given that he will begin training them; Mahato’s initiation is strict. No child will be given a jersey until he or she comes to train regularly for about a month and shows the passion to learn. The tough initiation has had its effect as the children take pride in donning the jersey and this pride has pushed them to train harder.
To the actual training, Mahato credits one man more than anyone. When Manthan was in its infancy, Mahato was fortunate enough to meet the late Jose Anonio Borges Tavares, a product from Carlos Queiroz’s academy in Portugal. The discussions with Tavares – who his colleagues affectionately called Ze – helped Mahato realize how archaic football training is in India.
‘Overnight I changed my approach to coaching. I realized that all this time I was wasting my time following an outdated regiment. I realized that the trends in Europe have to be replicated here and once I started, the results have been very positive. Ze made me look at football differently and just like me, India needs to look at football differently’. He goes onto add, ‘A player should’ve picked up the technical side of the game by the age of 14 where the infusion of tactics has to come as early as possible. No waiting till they are playing in age bracketed tournaments; expose them to positioning and tactics very early on.’
On the field the training has worked too as the aggression in each tackle to the feisty competitiveness is clearly evident and this has reflected even in competitive environments. In the just completed Delhi youth League, Mahato’s teams not only won both the Under-8’s and Under-9’s championships but also remained unbeaten. What makes the feat even more impressive is that the Under-9’s won all 18 matches, scoring 81 goals and conceding just 7!
One of his trainees, Mohammad Ansar was selected for the U-13 All Indian camp while another trainee, Raju Kumar, narrowly missed the cut to attend a Manchester United imitative where a select few kids are chosen from India to train at the Red Devils’ prestigious Carrington training complex.
But everything hasn’t gone to according to plan and one huge problem for Mahato is the lack of proper monitoring outside of the football field. He tells the case of a boy who many thought was a sure shot to make the Indian team but due to poor monitoring, the boy was exposed to drugs and he never recovered. Even though the boy is back training under Mahato, the X-factor seems to have gone and a precious talent has been wasted.
When asked about outside help, Mahato’s normally energetic voice gives way to dejection. Funding or sponsors have been difficult to attract and with a shrug of his shoulders Mahato accepts that the going has been incredibly tough.
‘I am but one man but I am up against am entrenched system which has been there for years. Even I need help because as the strength of trainees increases, I too need more coaches. But I wont give up. Every day I want the children to fight against the odds. I follow the same’